Nicola Carr, Commissioning Editor Edinburgh University Press.
Although nobody can wave a magic wand and turn a PhD thesis into an international best seller or award winner, there are some key points postgraduates might want to consider
as they begin to think about publishing.
No one can write about academic publishing without acknowledging the presence of the Research Assessment Exercise. This has had an enormous impact, with all academics now feeling an extra pressure to publish as much and as well as possible. This has great significance for postgraduates looking for their first job in academia: with a contract for a publication under your belt, you will be an attractive option for potential employers. Having grounding in what the publication process involves and how to be a part of it is obviously important.
Publishing and the academic community
A tension can exist between academics and publishers: while academics are being required to produce high quality, prestige research publications, publishers are looking for better-selling books - either with student appeal (the 'teaching materials' not recognised by the RAE) or a wider market (including a general readership). This is not to say that publishers are not doing some 'scholarly' publishing, but that it is being done in a limited, carefully planned way.
There are likely to be changes in the form of publications, including an ever-increasing number of journals. They may become a more significant outlet for specialist research, with articles being accorded as much weight as single authored books in RAE terms.
How to get published: the first publication
What to do about these?
First the bad news. Publishers are tending to steer clear of publishing theses, even in revised form - they are perceived as being monographic, narrowly focused, specialised, with limited market potential. A thesis may in many cases only be considered for publication when it has lost many of the give-away signs of its origins (the hundreds of footnotes, for example), when it has a truly international market, and when it is topical.
The best option may be to mine the thesis for viable articles: these are just as important in RAE terms and can be an incredibly valuable route into publishing more generally, and into the job market.
Getting a book published
If you decide book publishing is the viable option, what next?
You must think about what a publisher is looking for: they are keeping aclose eye on the market, and so should you. What is being taught and talked about? What books are available and what is needed?- Where is the subject area going?
It is vital to discover who is publishing in your area: check the publisher's catalogues to see if they have similar or related books on their list, check bookshop sections and conference exhibitions, and talk to publishers at conferences or when they are visiting your department. Establish the publisher's criteria for selecting books for publication.
Preparation of a book proposal
Once you have identified potential publishers, you need to prepare a book proposal. You should contact the company and request their proposal guidelines. You will then be able to provide them with the information they require to consider your book for publication. It is also wise to establish the name of the Editor working in your area and address the proposal to them.
Each publisher has its own review procedures: call them to find out what these are and how long you might expect to wait before you hear news. If your project is being considered seriously, it is likely that the proposal will be sent to readers for review.
Alternative publication options
It may be that the revised thesis, article or full-length book is not a possibility for you. Instead you could contribute a conference paper which might be selected for inclusion in a volume of essays, suggest a book of essays to a colleague and offer to write a chapter, collaborate with a colleague on an article, chapter or book, or offer your services as book reviewer or publisher's reader.
I don't want the very practical nature of this information to depress you - there are a lot of publishers out there, looking for the right books.
With more information at your disposal you should be able approach the publishing process with more confidence.
The main message, then, is to seek as much help, advice and guidance as possible when entering the publication minefield.
This paper reproduced with kind permission from the Bulletin of the "British Association of Romantic Studies", 15 (March 1999).